Lead Economist and Manager for Global Knowledge & Innovation, Education Global Practice, World Bank
Senior Education Specialist, World Bank
COVID-19 has exacerbated the global learning crisis, but also offers opportunities to reimagine education and realise the future of learning through smart uses of new technologies.
The dire impact of COVID-19 on learners today jeopardises their future
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the world was already tackling a learning crisis, with 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries living in learning poverty, that is, being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.
The learning poverty crisis has been exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19, which has resulted in widespread school closures. At the peak of school closures in April 2020, 94% of students – or 1.6 billion children – were out of basic education worldwide. There are still around 700 million students today unable to attend school and with very limited access to remote learning opportunities.
Due to learning losses and increases in dropout rates, this generation of students stand to lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings, or almost 10% of global GDP. Countries will be driven even further off-track to eliminate learning poverty – which may rise to 63%– and achieve their education Sustainable Development Goals.
Education technology can help tackle today’s challenges and realise the future of learning
The crisis has compelled countries to re-examine their education models to make them more resilient, equitable and higher quality, with investments and policies today to realise the future of learning. Investments in edtech can help education systems achieve this vision, making them more resilient to future shocks and helping reform and reimagine the way education is delivered to all children.
In pursuit of this goal, the World Bank’s approach to effective uses of education technology (edtech) aims to discover evidence-based technology solutions in education, diffuse this knowledge widely across policy makers, and support countries to deploy these solutions through investments and capacity development.
Smart uses of edtech focus on learning by amplifying human connections
Education at its heart is about human interactions between teachers and students, as well as parents, principals and the broader community. From the COVID-19 pandemic, we have discovered that while remote learning can ensure learning continuity and serve as a good complement of in-person education, it is not a replacement. Teachers remain at the heart of learning. Empowering them with technology and digital skills is critically important to keep our children’s learning up during these challenging times, as well as to prepare them for a digital future that increasingly relies on digital skills and learning through connections beyond school walls.
However, the huge digital divides – from connectivity to digital skills – and inequalities in the quality of parental support and home learning environments is amplifying learning inequality.
Education policies and initiatives that utilise edtech should embrace an inter-related set of five principles to maximise human engagement. That is, edtech should be used: with a clear purpose and focus on improving learning; to reach all learners at scale; to empower teachers; to engage an ecosystem of partners; and rigorously and routinely use data to learn what strategies, policies and programs are effective to maximise student learning.
The future starts today. There is a window of opportunity to build on the lessons of the pandemic and to use today’s investments in edtech to build back an education system that is equitable, where all schools and homes have the conditions and support for learning at and beyond schools; that is effective, where teachers and schools are equipped to support each student at the level they need; and that is resilient, with education services that are well-managed and ensure continuity in the learning process between the school and the home and community.